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Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers join ranks of world's terrorists

By Mary Anne WeaverSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 22, 1984



Madras, India

In Jaffna, the heart of Sri Lanka's Tamil country, Stanley Bryson Allen and Mary Elizabeth, his wife, were watching a video James Bond movie the night of May 10.

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Suddenly the film became cinema verite, as six masked men and women brandishing Soviet AK-47s burst through the bedroom door. They hustled the Allens into a waiting van, blindfolded and gagged them, beginning a five-day ordeal in which it at one point the Allens were thought to have been killed.

In the end, the couple were released unharmed early last week, but the kidnapping of the American newlyweds has left a trail of recrimination that could have profound effect on Indian-Sri Lankan relations, on US vulnerability in this sensitive part of the world, and on the growing confrontation between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese (Buddhist) and Tamil (Hindu) communities.

In Jaffna, these two groups are already engaged in a veritable state of war.

With the kidnapping, the Tamil Tigers, a revolutionary, separatist group, joined the ranks of the world's modern guerrillas and raised the fury of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was playing host to Vice-President George Bush in New Delhi, as the Tigers directed the kidnapping from command posts in southern India.

The kidnapping was the work of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), the most doctrinaire Marxist of the six Tamil Tiger groups. Until they seized the Allens, the heterogeneous grouping of some 300 people was considered more intellectual than military: It was one of the smallest groups of Tigers. About 25 of them have been trained in the Soviet Union - either as university students or in propaganda and guerrilla warfare.

Like the other Tigers, they have one solitary goal - the creation, for Sri Lanka's 18 percent Tamil population - of the visionary state of ''Eelam'' in the country's east and north.

They have strong support organizations in London, Frankfurt, Paris, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and the United States to whom they look for financial backing, including arms supplies. And arms, from the open markets of Europe and the Middle East are, according to intelligence sources, flowing into the Tigers' headquarters in the south of India at unprecedented rates.

Here in Tamil Nadu, in India's tropical south, there are 40 million Indian Tamils. Madras, the capital city, is decidedly a Tamil town. There is thus a close kinship with Sri Lankan Tamils across the narrow waterway, the Palk Strait , who originally came from the south of India.

There are also compelling arguments of political expediency which have led Mrs. Gandhi, for the past seven years, to permit the Tigers' rest and sanctuary here.

Over the years, they have become increasingly entrenched. They now operate sophisticated command structures with headquarters in Madurai and Madras. Many of their leaders have Indian passports. Some even shelter in the state government's posh, panelled guest house.

Mohan and Iqbal (not their real names) are members of the EPRLF's nine-man central committee. They readily conceded last week that, had it not been for Mrs. Gandhi, and by implication, her threatening tone, the Allens - working on a water project in Jaffna, funded by the US Agency for International Development (AID) - probably would not have been released.